US Air Force colonel with Lehigh Valley roots helps other service women to succeed

Written by on July 12, 2021

US Air Force colonel with Lehigh Valley roots helps other service women to succeed

By Chloe Nouvelle

July 12, 2021

Jen Saraceno during a promotion ceremony. Photo | Courtesy of

Jen Saraceno is a colonel in the United States Air Force with deep roots in the Lehigh Valley. 

Born in Allentown and raised in Bethlehem, Saraceno has led a life dedicated to public service, first as a staffer to two of Pennsylvania’s representatives in Congress, then on deployments abroad. She now serves as the executive officer to the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency

But Saraceno’s dedication to public service can’t simply be summed up by her rank and assignments. She also helps improve the lives of the women she serves with by addressing issues that cause women to leave the Air Force. 

Listen to the story.

Jen Saraceno

“Women make up about, depending on the rank, officer enlisted, about 20% of the Air Force. But women tend to start to leave the Air Force when they reach childbearing age.  So for officers, that’s going to be around when you’re a captain or a major, depending on when you get in. 

“Women are leaving because it was getting harder for them to stay in and progress because there were regulations and policies that maybe we’re old, outdated that were preventing them from, or making it more difficult for them, to hit some of those milestones you need to hit in order to progress in the service and to be promoted and to be to be successful.”

Chloe Nouvelle

“So you say one of the policies that was recently changed had to do with allowing women who are pregnant or postpartum to access additional education programs in the Air Force?”

Saraceno

“The Air Force wants us to hit certain developmental milestones and the policies were written so that if you were pregnant or you had just had a child you had to get a waiver to actually go to these schools. 

“And instead of allowing the woman to say, ‘You know what, I’m OK with going to school while I’m pregnant, or I’m OK with going to school postpartum, I don’t need a break. I’m ready to go. I have child care support.’

“If they’re married, their spouse is going to support them. Let them make the decision to go to school. It’s a decision that the woman should be making with her doctor and not necessarily have a policy that says, ‘Hey, you need to get a waiver, you have to jump through all these hoops in order to go to school.” 

Photo from Saraceno’s time in Squadron Command (she was a Lt Col at that time) when they created a Mental Health and Chaplain’s office in the squadron to make it easier for the Airmen to get support. Photo | Courtesy of Saraceno

Nouvelle

“And so your career has very much been focused on public service, serving as a congressional staffer then in the Air Force on the tactical level, like you mentioned and now at the governmental level. What drew you to this, to a life of public service?” 

Saraceno

“I get to help people especially in command positions and in leadership positions.

“Just taking care of the people is so important because if the people are suffering, if they’re struggling, if they don’t have the support that they need, the leadership that they need, they’re not going to get the mission done.

“I mean the mission is always going to happen, that’s what we do. That’s what the Air Force does. That’s where all the services do. We’re going to go wherever the nation needs us and we’re going to make something happen. 

“But we’re going to be really, really good at it if our people are taken care of. If we don’t take care of our people then the mission will suffer. 

“So that’s what keeps me going today.” 

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